Based on the acclaimed graphic novel of the same name, Netflix’s Heartstopper is my favorite new show of the year thus far, and an absolutely adorable queer coming-of-age story. For those hoping for an overly-sexualized journey in line with Euphoria or Genera+ion, Heartstopper has a different flavor of filmmaking on its mind. The sweetness and nuance of this tender story is simply irresistible. If I had to compare it to something, 2018’s Love, Simon is maybe the closest relative; however, Heartstopper truly captures an exciting and specifically UK version of teen love. The whole affair feels ripped right from the pages of a comic, complete with panels and magical sprinkles of animation to convey its crackling emotionality.
Truham Boys School situates their students in a different way each term, so as to allow everyone to get to know one another. It is by way of this curious practice that Charlie (Joe Locke), the only out gay teen at school, and Nick (Kit Connor), a hunky rugby player, sit together in class. Almost instantly, Charlie develops a clear and obvious crush on Nick, who seems far more complex and interesting than any of Nick’s douche-bro rugby friends. Charlie’s pals think he doesn’t stand a chance in dating Nick, who not only gets compared to a golden retriever, but also is described as “the straightest person I’ve ever seen.” At first, their friendship stays to a casual flirtation, but it progresses both gradually and organically for both boys.
The connection between Charlie and Nick starts at “supportive straight friend.” Nick sticks up for Charlie around every turn, and suggests that Charlie join the rugby team. Charlie longs for his friends to accept Nick among their ranks, though they come from two different worlds. Charlie’s delights lie in movie nights with his pals and drumming, whilst Nick is primely focused on rugby and hanging out with his sweet, non-judgmental mum. As Nick begins to question his own sexuality around his feelings for Charlie, Nick starts to second guess his own behavior, and those he chooses to surround himself with.
Though it may feature several cliches of LGBT drama fare, including bullying, a first kiss, and coming out of the closet, Heartstopper’s impressive script (from queer creator Alice Oseman, who also wrote the source material) consistently soars. At its core, Heartstopper relies on the seeds of romance that form between a kind-hearted jock and an openly gay nerdy outsider. Kit Connor and Joe Locke fill these roles with so much charm and heart that it practically spills out from every frame. Whether Charlie is kicking Nick’s ass at Mario Kart, or Nick is in the midst of a “proper full-on gay crisis,” the boys respectably both have each other’s backs at all times. Their chemistry is at the forefront of the series, and it kept me hooked. Thankfully, a minimal amount of meddlesome will-they-or-won’t-they is executed. Plot progression refuses to present unnecessary roadblocks to the central relationship, giving us ample time to watch this beautiful love story blossom before our very eyes.
I loved Kit Connor in Rocketman, and Joe Locke in his feature debut is a complete knockout beside Connor. The leads are thankfully supported by an excellent ensemble, mainly comprised of those in Charlie’s friend circle who are thrown into a tailspin as he becomes more involved with Nick. Transgender bestie Elle (Yasmin Finney) has just started at a new school that comes with its own sense of being an outsider; Tao (William Gao) wants everything to stay the same in his group and is fiercely protective over Charlie; Isaac (Tobie Donovan) remains the quiet but observant mediator between Charlie and Tao. Each separate story is shown its own measure of uniqueness, and dips toes into various facets of LGBTQ+ culture.
In typical Netflix fashion, nearly every episode of Heartstopper ends in a way that practically forces the viewer to play the next one. At only 8 half-hour episodes, one could easily binge the entire whimsical, beautifully-realized series in just one sitting. If a season two is hopefully greenlit, there are a plethora of exciting threads that the creative team can pick up on to expand the scope further. Best of all, free of heavy sexual content and explicit language, Heartstopper is a show the entire family can enjoy. I only wish I had access to media that handled sexuality with the level of understanding and acceptance from an earlier age. I firmly believe it will speak most directly to the young at heart, and those who are in serious need of a richly realized romance in their life. If the graphic novel is halfway as enchanting as this Netflix surprise, I am inclined to seek it out immediately.
Heartstopper explodes with the fireworks of true love when it debuts exclusively to Netflix on Friday, April 22nd.